A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1988


Wednesday, June 22, 1988

10 PM. The record-breaking heat wave continues. Yesterday it hit 97° and today 98°, and it’s been like an oven outside. I’m just glad I have an air-conditioned bedroom even if I had to sleep on the floor last night when Teresa was home.

The heat makes everything seem more difficult, especially getting around a city that, unlike South Florida, is definitely not air-conditioned.

I spent yesterday afternoon at Teachers College, writing my monologue for the revue. I’ve got about half of it done and the other half outlined.

But I’m not certain my conception of the monologue is what Anson is looking for and I’m not sure it will fit in with the spirit of the show. If it doesn’t, I’ll bow out.

Part of me is a little afraid of performing in the revue, but I will not back out because of fear; I know I need to take some risks in my work.

At 6 PM yesterday, I met Dad at his hotel room, and we went out for dinner and then came back to watch Biloxi Blues on pay TV. I knew Dad would enjoy it since the soldiers in the film were from his generation.

Tonight Dad was delayed by a ten-minute meeting that ended up taking two and a half hours, but he came up here and we had dinner at Szechuan Broadway.

We’ve gotten closer with this visit. He’s told me about all the crazy people at Bugle Boy and his frustrations and triumphs there.

Dad is, as his fortune cookie said, a person of charm and courtesy. He’s a real mensch: perceptive, gentlemanly, bright and thoughtful.

Yeah, he also can be a nervous wreck and still has all those qualities that make him a pain, but overall, I had good luck when it came to fathers. Mothers, too. Also grandparents.

All right, Grayson, enough sentiment already. Maybe I’m this way because I went to see the AIDS memorial quilt, The Names Project, today.

The quilt of hundreds of names of people of AIDS, sewn or otherwise crafted by loved ones, was first unfurled during last October’s march on Washington and is now on a national tour.

It opened in New York City last night and will be here through tomorrow at Pier 92 inside the Passenger Ship Terminal. Despite the heat, I took the bus there this afternoon.

As I looked at each panel, the enormity of the AIDS tragedy really struck me. How many people have been lost? Each had his own story, his own suffering, his own life.

People walked around and looked at the panels of either eight or 32 quilts on the walls and the floor. Everyone was real quiet, except for some sniffling.

It’s pretty hard to view some of the things that were written or drawn or just placed there: t-shirts and jackets and photos of vital-looking young men.

AIDS is the World War II, the Holocaust, of my generation. Whenever I saw birth dates in the late 1940s or the 1950s or 1960s, I felt so sad.

Most of the panels were for gay men, created by their lovers, friends, family. The total effect was heartbreaking. It made me feel especially bad because I have not done very much to help anyone.

While I could write a position paper for the AIDS Education and Human Sexuality class arguing that homosexuality should be taught in school as something normal and natural, the truth is I’ve internalized so much of society’s homophobia that I haven’t been very honest.

I’ve avoided becoming a part of the gay community. I haven’t really come out publicly – and more and more, I want to.

Oh, most of my friends (though not all) know that I’m gay or bisexual, but I haven’t really developed a healthy gay identity.

It’s hard to sit still in the age of AIDS. One panel quoted some man’s last words and his friend’s replies: as is common among dying people, the guy saw lights at the end of long path, and his friend told him, “Go toward the light.”

“Go Toward the Light” would be a good title for my sequel to “I Survived Caracas Traffic,” where the narrator goes to Orlando and meets his ex-lover’s lover, the guy who cared for him when he got sick.

The story’s been germinating for months, taking shape in my head, the way “Caracas Traffic” did, and I hope it will come out (no pun intended) the same way.

Gee, I wanted to complain about Teresa, but it now hardly seems at all important. Neither do all the little things that went wrong today.

I feel peaceful and tired. May the heat wave break tonight.

Friday, June 24, 1988

10 PM. Today was a rare beautiful day: mild, sunny and dry.

Last evening I took the bus to Columbus Circle, and just as I was exiting by the Coliseum, Dad was passing directly in front of me. People from out of town don’t believe it, but that sort of thing happens all the time in Manhattan.

We went back to Dad’s hotel room, where he changed, and then walked to Sixth Avenue, where we had dinner at Wolf’s.

It was cool enough that walking was pleasant, and we made our way into Central Park, where we watched the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Corporate Challenge race, with about 10,000 runners from different companies.

Dad loves running, and it was fun to see the runners start off. It’s incredible how many fit young people with amazing bodies there are.

I really should do more aerobic exercise, but I’ve never been turned on by running.

For the first time, Dad told me, he’s getting really bad vibes about the way the company is being run. He expects this year’s great sales won’t continue because of poor management.

As on Wall Street, young people making big money often mistake luck for brains.

I’ve never worked in business, but I’m shocked at the stories Dad tells me about the childish behavior of the  bosses and managers at Bugle Boy shirts. From the sound of things, Bungle Boy would be a more appropriate name.

Well, at least Dad had a couple of good years with the company.

He walked me to Tenth Avenue, where I got the bus home.

Before I went to bed, Ronna called to say goodbye, as she and Ellen were leaving for Maine today. They’ll be back a week from Sunday, she said.

After a good night’s sleep, this morning I did the usual before going out and getting $1000 in ATM cash advances, all of which I deposited in ChemBank. I had pizza at Caesar’s on Amsterdam Avenue, then did a few chores.

Dad called at 3:30 PM after his last appointment; right now he should be in the air, heading to Fort Lauderdale. I won’t see him again until he returns to New York although that could be in just five or six weeks.

Miriam wrote that she’s pregnant and very happy about it, although she’s feeling quite queasy all the time. She sent along a new little magazine, Fish Drum, edited by Robert, featuring Santa Fe poets.

Tom sent a postcard saying he quit the German course after two days and that he’s finished an essay on Walser for the Pro Helvetia grant. He definitely enjoys being in Switzerland with Debra.

This evening I took the subway downtown and went over to Josh’s apartment, where I did the obligatory admiring of his new futon bed/couch.

He told me that the people are still following him, that they’re either at work or at his house every day, that their modus operandi continues: They don’t threaten him or even speak but make faces or gestures (like “shooting” him with a “gun”-hand or crossing a finger across a neck).

To some extent, I believe Josh because he sounds too rational for this to be totally in his imagination. But again, this whole thing makes no sense.

Why would these people harass Josh? What possible motive could they have? Are they getting paid? And will we ever find out the truth?

It seems very hard to believe that this could have gone for so long without it either stopping or coming to a head.

I just don’t get it, but Josh is definitely under a great deal of strain and stress.

I didn’t want to go to the movies after we had dinner at the Kiev, so Josh walked me to Seventh Avenue, where I caught the subway uptown.

It’s hard to believe that I am now so old that I used to hang out in the West Village 19 years ago.

Saturday, June 25, 1988

8 PM. This morning I went to Primary Stages at 10:30 PM and found not only Anson and the other writers, but also a handful of actors, including Anson’s wife Christina and a guy I’ve seen playing a World War I doughboy in a Merrill Lynch commercial.

I helped collate and staple the pages of various skits, and it was an hour before we went over to the Primary Stages theater on West 45th Street.

Onstage, the actors read the various skits and I did my whole monologue. Then there was a lot of discussion. It seemed like it would go on forever.

I left at 2 PM, mostly because I was starving, but also because I’m not sure I want to be a part of the revue.

Some of the skits are cute and there are very funny jokes in some of them, but by and large, the humor is collegiate – even sophomoric.

I’m not certain my stuff fits in, either as a stand-up routine or as a Spalding Gray-type monologue.

I know my writing is good because my experiences are good, and I don’t want to change my “material” because it’s my life.

While I understand the suggestions people gave me would help the show, they also wouldn’t be true to the material.

I’ll think about it. I need to decide if being in the show would be worth it to me.

It pays bupkis, and I’ve already done so much in my life – my stories in little magazines, my work for the Fiction Collective and my Sun-Tattler newspaper columns – that paid little or nothing.

Basically, I can see why most of the writers and directors are younger: they need the exposure.

Anyway, if I leave the show, I’ll still be left with a great monologue and probably the basis of a good article.

When Justin first told me about the revue, I thought I’d be writing skits with others, not using my own material. I’m not an actor – nor do I want to be one.

In a conversation a little while ago, Pete told me he once went to an open call for actors for some off-off-Broadway comedy. They saw him for two minutes, and there were 120 actors there for a part which paid almost nothing. The experience made Pete realize he’s glad he’s not an actor.

Anyway, after having lunch out in the Theater District, I came back here to my mail.

I did a couple of hours of credit card work – bill-paying and making out cash advance checks – and then went to the bank, the bagel store and the supermarket.

Marc phoned to say he’d gotten an excellent DOS tutorial for five dollars at Radio Shack, and he’d also bought Earl Weaver’s baseball game and was trying to learn it.

When Pete called, he said he met with his program head at NYU. Once she got Pete’s letter about Susan’s observation report, she apologized to him, though she said she’d observe him herself in the fall – which is fine with Pete.

My last letter to Crad must have gotten lost in the mail because he said he’d never heard from me before he left Canada – and now he’s already been to New York and back.

His grandparents are all very frail, his mother’s quite sick with her heart condition, and his father, whose emphysema has gotten worse, lost his job.

Crad’s sister was cranky because she’s in her eighth month, and his niece is cute but sometimes bratty.

When Crad returned to Toronto, the heat wave kept him off the streets.

A couple of hours ago, Judy came in to borrow something and said, “Why aren’t you outside on such a beautiful day?” (I was eating dinner, as she could plainly see.)

“Judy,” I said, “you New Yorkers only think this is such a beautiful day because you don’t know any better. To me, this is an average day in January.”

Today I got the latest update from Josh’s “newsletter,” his log of harassing incidents. When I told Crad about it, he said Josh sounds a bit crazy, “but then New York makes people crazy.”

Crad is correct.

Sunday, June 26, 1988

9 PM. It’s a gorgeous evening. The sun is down, and I’ve just had some cottage cheese with pineapple after seeing Josh get on the crosstown bus. He came over at about 3 PM and we spent the afternoon together.

Naturally, he told me about the latest incidents involving the people following him. But by now he’s so paranoid that he suspects the worst of strangers doing perfectly innocent, ordinary things: I witnessed that myself today.

We went out around 4:30 PM and decided to go to the 6 PM show of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? at the Columbia on Broadway and 103rd. (Until recently, it played only Spanish-language movies, but gentrification has come to Manhattan Valley.)

So we took a long, slow walk uptown, and I introduced Josh to the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which he’d never entered. I’d first been there for the dedication of the Poets’ Corner four years ago.

I’ve always liked the Episcopalians. It speaks well of them that the cathedral has memorials to AIDS patients and to victims of the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide.

Actually, the Archbishop of Canterbury had preached there just this morning, and there was a sign remembering his emissary Terry Waite, who is either a hostage in Beirut or who was already been killed by terrorists there.

Josh and I sat outside by the Peace Fountain before walking back to the theater, where we stood on line for the longest time.

I’d never seen such an integrated movie audience: a mixture of whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, little kids, old people, Jews with yarmulkes.

The movie was very good, a Spielbergian entertainment mixing animated cartoon characters with human actors by using incredible special effects. It was hugely satisfying, and it has the feel of a classic like Star Wars or E.T.

It was so beautiful as we walked down Broadway afterwards that all the people we passed looked especially attractive. Or maybe my testosterone level is just very high right now.

Josh asked me what those brilliant lights were up ahead on the buildings on the east side of Broadway, and he couldn’t believe they were merely reflections of the sun.

Actually, today started off cloudy and rainy. There was a thunderstorm going on at 6 AM when I awoke from a horrible dream in which I’d had a stroke and couldn’t talk or move my left side.

The storm settled me down and I prolonged my sleep for as long as I could, not getting up till 10:30 AM. After breakfast, I exercised for an hour and read most of the Times before Josh arrived.

The business section had an article on the credit card wars. It’s getting impossible to market new cards because the country is already saturated with plastic.

Add-on enhancements, affinity cards, contests, etc., can get only so much more business, and the great growth of the credit card industry in the 1980s seems at an end.

The losses from bad debts are mounting, and most of the recent ones are from bankruptcies, which means that those people won’t have credit cards again.

I’m sure nobody will issue me a new card now. To keep my credit chassis going, I either have to get secured cards or hope that being a good customer will get me higher credit lines on the cards I already have.

Either way, I’ll probably have to go bankrupt eventually.

Monday, June 27, 1988

3 PM. I’m at Grandma Ethel’s apartment in Rockaway. I got here just a few minutes ago; apparently, Grandma is still at the doctor’s.

This was the last day I could come here before my computer ed course on Wednesday and Thursday at Teachers College.

I decided to make the trip when Teresa phoned and said she wouldn’t be coming into the city today because she and her friends in Fire Island had stayed out too late – probably drinking and taking drugs, I suppose.

Again, there was no hot water in the building, so after I worked out, I had to wipe myself around with a damp, soapy towel in order to wash up.

Leaving the top lock open for the cleaning woman when she comes tomorrow, I got on the downtown 1 train around 12:30 PM.

Today was a mild and sunny day.

I enjoyed stopping off in Park Slope to get my favorite lunch, the cheese-less “baby pizza,” at Roma Pizza. Then I took a leisurely bus ride down Flatbush Avenue, changing for the Rockaway bus at Avenue L.

Around 10 PM last night, I was in bed reading the Washington Post when Josh called.

“Talk about coincidences,” he said. “Remember that fat black guy we saw in the theater? I just came across him on St. Marks Place.”

Uh-huh, I said, not really paying attention.

A little while later, Josh called back. Clearly, he had been obsessing.

He told me he didn’t like the looks of the fat guy and his friend near me when I picked out seats for us while Josh was getting popcorn, and that was why he asked me to move.

But I knew these two guys were part of a group, and I’d even spoken to them before the movie: they certainly had no interest in Josh.

Even more paranoid was his suspicion of a Hispanic kid waiting outside the men’s room.

It would have been impossible for this kid to know we’d go to the men’s room after the movie, I said – just as it would have been impossible for the fat guy to know exactly where Josh was going to get off the bus and what street Josh was going to walk on so the fat guy could arrange to be coming in the opposite direction.

Josh got very upset, and he said it could have been done with various people, a car, hand signals and walkie-talkies.

I told him that his talking that way frightened me, and even if what was happening was real, it was making him crazy and that he needed to see some kind of therapist.

I couldn’t sleep, and in the middle of the night, I reread the whole of Josh’s “log” as if I’d never seen it before. It read like the diary of a madman.

Yesterday Josh said he felt this whole thing was like getting cancer, and it affected every part of his life.

We went over the same questions for about an hour: Why would anyone do this to Josh? How could the logistics possibly work?

The motives, the many sightings, the length of time this has been going on: None of it makes any sense, we said.

But there is one way everything does make sense, and that is if it is all in Josh’s imagination.

He told me that Simon’s sister and brother-in-law refuse to talk about it anymore and that Beau stopped seeing him a few weeks ago because he couldn’t deal with the problem.

I don’t want to believe a friend of mine could be going crazy or becoming paranoid, but it’s the only answer that would explain everything. And that terrifies me. I don’t know who to contact to ask for help.

Could it be possible that some of this is really happening? I get close to it, and I feel as if I myself am going crazy.

Maybe that’s why I came to Rockaway today, to get away from a problem I don’t know how to deal with.

And I don’t even know whom to talk with. Ronna? Justin? My parents? Alice? Josh’s other friends?

It’s hard to tell when a friend is slipping over the line from saying something implausible to saying something psychotic.

I need time and a little distance to figure it out. Or to stop thinking about it myself.